Imposing moral limits on growth

Why should we worried about the constant attacks on bankers emanating from politicians? Because their intended target is much wider than it seems.

The attacks on bankers and City “greed” are a coded way of attacking ambition. They are an attempt to reconcile the mass of the population to slow growth and even austerity.

To understand the real content of the attack on bankers it must situation in the context of the contemporary obsession with supposed limits to growth. There are allegedly environmental limits to growth (for example, climate change) and social limits to growth (it does not make us happy). Now there is the invention of moral limits (greed leads to economic turmoil).

The assault on bankers by politicians is central to this morality play. Bankers are held up as pariahs whose reckless greed almost destroyed the global economy. The proposed solution, usually implicit sometimes explicit, is that all of us, not just bankers, have to lower our expectations.

This argument is flawed on several counts. First, it is a convenient way for politicians to scapegoat others for the failure of the economy. Second, the idea that bankers are primarily responsible for the crisis ignores the underlying structural weaknesses of the economy. Finally, we should be aspiring to more growth and prosperity rather than less.